We were expecting June 2020 to be another relaxing month under lockdown. Enjoying the winter sunshine and wonderful view over the Maroochydore River on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Instead, it turned out to be, probably, the most stressful, emotional, turbulent, confusing and challenging time of our lives.
This post details a personally challenging period during the pandemic of 2020. I’m not sure if you will find it of any interest. I wrote it as a way to process, clarify and remember the many issues and challenges that beset us during that time. This has been done progressively over the last few months and I believe when we reflect on it we’ll realise just how resilient we were.
One thing is for certain – I definitely don’t want to repeat this 6 week period of our lives.
The phone call
We had been living in Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland since March. Choosing to escape both the coming southern winter and the more severe Covid-19 lockdown in Melbourne.
On Monday June 1st I received a call from my sister advising that my dear father (Geoffrey Thomas Lamb) had passed away in his Nursing Home in Melbourne that morning. After trying to comprehend this news we visited my brother, Craig, who lives on the Sunshine Coast. After consoling each other we determined what to do next.
The first order of business was getting down to Melbourne. Craig and his wife, Liane, notified their employers of the situation and started their drive south that afternoon. Due to the pandemic there were limited flights ‘home’ and only one business class seat (for a ridiculous price) over the coming days. So the decision was made to rent a car and drive the 2,000 odd kilometres (1,250 miles) to Melbourne. We picked up the car the same evening and headed off at 4am the next day. We drove for 16 hours to Canberra and stayed with my cousin and his wife overnight. Early Wednesday morning we set off again for the final 8 hour drive to Melbourne.
Being nomadic means we have no permanent home so when an unplanned situation like this happens it can be quite difficult. It’s in times like these that your true friends step up to the plate. We are blessed that some of our very close and long term friends (since school days) offered us accommodation during this tough time.
Nothing’s ever simple
Arrangements were made over the next two days for Dad’s funeral. Unfortunately, the funeral could not be held on the following Monday as it was the Queens Birthday Public Holiday. Normally, it would be possible to have a funeral on a public holiday however due to the restrictions we had to wait until the Tuesday. Thankfully, the maximum numbers allowed to attend funerals had increased the week before from 10 to 50 people. Even with the new maximum this meant that some people that would have liked to attend could not. We can’t imagine what it must have been like for families when the numbers were limited to only 10.
Social distancing rules had to be observed within the chapel so to enable 50 people to attend we had to use the largest chapel with a normal capacity of 220. This also meant that nearly all funerals were booking this particular chapel to cater for the max 50 mourners. Having one day less available (due to the public holiday that week) plus use of the largest chapel meant that the only time slot available on the Tuesday was 9.30am
Some of our family live on the opposite side of the city centre so this meant a very early start and adding in time for travel in peak hour. And, just to top it all off, the weekend before the funeral, roadworks closed the major access routes to the cemetery. This added even more delay for those attending.
Sadly, our brother Neil, who resides in NZ, was unable to come for the funeral. Flying into Melbourne he would have to isolate for 2 weeks, missing the funeral, so it was impractical.
Even with all the tribulations with getting to Melbourne and making the arrangements we had a glorious (but cool) sunny winters day to farewell Dad. We think (and hope) he would have been happy with it.
Our plan was now to return to Queensland soon after the funeral however life had another twist ahead for us!
A turn for the worse
Jacqueline’s Mum’s health had been slowly deteriorating over the previous 6 months prior to us arriving in Melbourne. She had been in and out of hospital and was back in hospital when we arrived for dad’s funeral. Visiting hours at the hospital were restricted due to the pandemic. Only one visitor was allowed at a time during the available 2 x 2 hour windows. The prognosis wasn’t good and on the day of Dad’s funeral we were advised that Sandra was being put into palliative care (at the hospital). One benefit of this was that we could visit at any time with two visitors at a time.
This was, of course, a confronting and challenging time and in this scenario the medicos cannot give you any idea of what timeline you’re dealing with. As such, our lack of accommodation dilemma became more complex as we didn’t know how long we would need to stay in Melbourne.
With a little help from our friends
Initially, our good friends looked after us (again) but we felt uncomfortable relying on friends for an unknown duration. We had lengthy and difficult conversations with each other and decided that we couldn’t stay indefinitely in Melbourne. We were due in Brisbane for a 7 week house sit starting on July 11th so decided that we would leave Melbourne in 3 weeks – on July 5th. Jacqueline would spend as much time each day with her Mum and eventually we would say our final goodbye.
We put the word out that we were available for house sits over that 3 week period or looking for local paid accommodation. The response was wonderful and out of the blue an old soccer mate offered his vacant ‘granny flat’ at his daughter’s house. This was truly a blessing as we’d been staying with friends for just under 3 weeks and now we’d get some time to ourselves in our own space. We picked up 2 short house sits for friends as well that nicely filled in our remaining time in Melbourne.
Sandra was moved from the hospital to a specialised palliative care unit at a facility closer to the family on the 15th June. Unfortunately, visiting here was more restricted than the hospital. Only one visitor at a time due to Covid-19 with just one time slot in the afternoon. Jacqueline’s father was able to negotiate an extra visit at lunch time. This alleviated some of the issues with visits being available for Jacqueline and her sister. This facility was better than the hospital as its purpose was purely for palliative care. Sandra rallied for a period whilst there but the inevitable end came and she passed away peacefully early on the morning of June 25th. Arrangements were made and we farewelled Sandra on July 1st.
Our lease in QLD ends whilst we’re in Melbourne
When we left Maroochydore on June 2nd we only grabbed a few of our possessions for the 7-10 days we expected to be away. We had been paying for our apartment on a month to month basis and were paid up until June 22nd. Our plan was to extend until 19th July however with the change in our circumstances this was not going to be possible. We needed to get our possessions removed from the apartment. Just another thing that we didn’t need. Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-law had already returned to Queensland. They did not live far from Maroochydore so they helped us out collecting all of our, and Brandon’s, things.
Border closures and returning to Queensland
Queensland had closed its borders to the rest of Australia some months earlier however certain exemptions applied and returning residents were allowed back in. We were classed as Queensland residents having ‘moved’ there in March. (I must admit that it was a pretty loose definition we used as living there!!)
During June a new outbreak of Covid-19 had started in Melbourne and the Queensland government were getting twitchy about letting anyone in that had visited Victoria. An announcement was made just before Sandra’s funeral about border controls. The border would be closed from midday on Friday 3rd July to everyone (including Queensland residents). Residents could still return however they would be placed in 14 day hotel quarantine at their own expense (approx. $4000).
Our dilemma’s continued as the timing of the closure was just 24 hours too soon for us. The funeral was on July 2nd but there was no way we could make the 24 hour drive to Queensland and arrive by midday July 3rd.
If only the funeral was one day earlier or the closure one day later. What to do now???
We had three options –
1. drive to Queensland and be put in a costly 14 day hotel quarantine
2. stay in Melbourne (with a large number of our possessions staying in Queensland)
3. get out of Victoria ASAP, spend two weeks travelling in New South Wales, and re-enter Queensland.
We took option 3 and ‘filled’ in 2 weeks slowly making our way north exploring NSW. It was a strange two weeks. As it wasn’t a ‘planned’ holiday we just made it up as we went along. Another curve ball was that this exact two week period happened to be the NSW school holidays. With that state having been released from lockdown loads of families took the opportunity to get away so accommodation was again at a premium.
The bright side to this “lost” two weeks was that we were able to spend time with house sitting friends in Sydney, Christopher and Andrew, and Ian and Lloyd in northern New South Wales. They were both very generous and put us up for the duration of our short visits.
Getting back in
We had kept receipts from our 2 weeks in NSW to prove that we had not been in Victoria for the preceding 2 weeks. With some trepidation we approached the Queensland border check point on July 16th. We needn’t have worried as we were waved through with no checks required!! As we had a rental car from Queensland it had local number plates. The border officials were only stopping vehicles with non-QLD number plates! What a relief. We were finally back after 6.5 weeks away.
We made our way to the Brisbane property of our house sit – 5 days later than scheduled. The owners had departed 4 days earlier but we had been in continuous contact with them whilst in Victoria. They had a fixed departure date so we arranged for our very good house sitting friends, Dave and Sue, to ‘fill in’ for us at the start of the sit. We are so very grateful for the understanding and flexibility shown by the home owners and the offer of help provided by Dave and Sue to ensure everything worked out.
We settled into our 5 week sit and could finally take a few deep breaths and be settled after a tumultuous 6.5 weeks.